2012 Honda CR-V: First Drive Page 2

November 16, 2011

Cargo capacity with the rear seatbacks up is an impressive 37.2 cubic feet. A side cargo net is included, and EX levels and above get a removable and retractable cargo cover. Fold the back seats down, and you get a continuous cargo floor that’s 61.4 cubic feet long—although it does have a slight step up at the base of the seatbacks. Honda is proud that it’s dropped the cargo floor—and the liftover height itself—to 23.6 inches.

Looking elsewhere at the CR-V’s spec sheet, it looks technically a bit behind the curve. At a time when most crossovers have (or will soon be) migrating to direct-injection engines and six-speed automatics, the CR-V makes do with what’s essentially a carryover engine and five-speed automatic transmission. That’s not all bad; the 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder remains one of the smoothest fours in this class, with nice, even power delivery all the way up to redline.

The available Real Time AWD system is also a new system that no longer requires front wheel slip before sending more power to the rear wheels. It uses a hydraulic pump to engage the clutch based on driver inputs—always applying some ‘standby torque’ to launch the CR-V from a standing start with all four wheels. When cruising, it still completely disengages the rear wheels.

Taller gearing: some good, some bad

Honda carries the same five-speed automatic transmission over from the last-generation CR-V, but it’s made the final gear ratio taller (1.4 percent taller in all-wheel drive models, or six percent taller with front-wheel drive). There’s still no full manual control, and the net effect we found on our drive is that, like with many newer models moving to taller gearing, you’re likely to get stellar gas mileage if you drive gently; but in spirited driving with fast-moving traffic, or on hilly or curvy roads, you’ll experience more transmission downshifts and indecision—and, potentially, lower fuel economy.

Just as in the Insight and Civic, the CR-V now has a big green ‘econ’ button. Press it and you get different operating parameters for the throttle, transmission, and air conditioning. As we observed, pressing it makes the CR-V feel somewhat like a German car, with a much more linear throttle and earlier upshifts. We pressed the button once at a time when the climate control had the fan cranked quite high, and it commanded an instantaneous drop in fan speed. There’s also a simplified coaching system, in which you simply look for a lighted ring surrounding the speedometer to stay green.

Coated pistons and reduced oil-ring tension (to cut engine friction), a smart alternator control system to cut electricity consumption, a low-viscosity transmission fluid, and an automatic transmission warmer all contribute to these efficiency gains.

EPA fuel economy ratings land at 23 mpg city, 31 highway with front-wheel drive, or 22/30 with four-wheel drive—making it the highest-mileage all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicle in this class. Over a half-day of fast driving on mostly curvy roads, with some expressway portions, we saw about 23 mpg. That’s quite good, but stay tuned to see if we can do even better in daily driving.

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